Chinese Baby Customs

 

 

China has lots of interesting baby customs and many are still practiced today.  Most relate to pregnancy and the “first 100 days” of a child’s life, although some extend up until the child’s first year of life.  All of the customs are very interesting and there are some that adoptive families have successfully incorporated into their own customs and celebrations.  These are highlighted in red text for your reference as you may wish to introduce some of these Chinese customs into your own family.

Pregnancy Customs   

  • For thousands of years the Chinese have believed that everything a woman thinks, does and sees will influence the well being of the foetus.  Pregnant women are advised to read good books and poetry, listen to music and avoid gossip, anger, laughing loudly, hearing load noises, sitting on a crooked mat and looking at clashing colours.

  • If a pregnant woman eats food that's not properly cut or mashed it is thought that her child will have a careless disposition.

  • If she eats hot and spicy food her child will have a temper.

  • If she eats light coloured foods, the baby will be fair-skinned.

  • If her belly is rubbed too often during pregnancy her child will be demanding.

  • It was felt that pregnant women should never attend funerals.

  • Pregnant women often sleep with knives under their bed to scare away evil spirits.

  • The Chinese don’t name a baby before it is born.  Babies are given false names, or milk names, to confuse or scare away evil spirits.

  • Baby showers usually occur after the baby arrives as it is considered unlucky to throw a baby shower for an unborn baby.

  • A month before the baby is due, the maternal grandmother sends a package of clothing for her expectant daughter called “tsue shen” to hastening the delivery. There is a white cloth inside the package with which to wrap the newborn.

After the Baby is Born

  • After delivery the mother is traditionally encouraged to remain in her home for 30-40 days. She is freed from household duties and sits in her bed alone to look after her new infant. Sometimes even the husband must stay away.

  • Baby's pillows were traditionally filled with rice or beans to give the baby's head a proper shape.

  • A baby’s head should be stroked often so as it becomes nicely rounded.

  • The baby’s ankles would be loosely bound with a wide ribbon to keep the feet in an upright position.  This was supposed to encourage a strong stride later in life.

  • The maternal grandmother provides all of the baby equipment and waits for three days after the baby arrives before she sees her daughter and grandchild to deliver the goods.

  • When a Chinese baby is born he/she is already considered to be a year old.  This is because age is calculated from the date of conception not the date of birth.

  • Praise should never be given to a new baby as this may invite the attention of demons and ghosts.  Instead the Chinese refer to the baby in unfavourable terms.

  • A concave navel is considered a sign of a prosperous life for the baby.

  • A baby with more than one crown of hair will be mischievous and disobedient.

  • If a baby has wide and thick ears he/she will live in prosperity.

  • A baby is bathed after the third day in a traditional ceremony. Incense is burnt for the gods and the midwife sits with the mother surrounded by a straw sieve, a mirror, a padlock, an onion, a comb and a weight.  The baby is bathed in hot water boiled with herbs.  A red silk and string of coins is fastened around the bath. Guests (female only) place a piece of fruit or coloured egg into the water and a spoonful of cool water in the basin.

  • A small gift of silver is a traditional gift for a new born baby.

  • The Red Egg Ceremony is the baby's biggest celebration and is held at one month of age when the mother is also allowed out of her room. Eggs are a universal symbol of fertility and when dyed red the Chinese consider them to be very fortuitous.  Chinese Buddhist and Toaist families hold the Red Egg Ceremony in order to bring good luck to their child’s life.  (Adopted families sometimes incorporate it into a naming day ceremony). The red egg tradition started when it was customary for the maternal grandmother to bring gifts as eggs were considered a particular delicacy. 

  • In present day Red Egg celebrations, red coloured eggs are placed on the table and guests may take one home for good luck.

  • Guests often bring gifts of clothing or "lucky money" envelopes called “Li-shihs” to the ceremony.

  • Baby’s head would often be shaved during the Red Egg Ceremony. A girl’s head was shaved before the image of the Goddess of Children and a boy's head before the ancestral table. It is thought that the meaning of this was to mark the point of the child's independent existence.

  • During the Red Egg Ceremony a red egg would be rubbed over the child’s head for good fortune. (Adopted families sometimes incorporate it into a naming day ceremony.)

  • The guests receive ginger to take home with them. Ginger wards off evil spirits and its “yang” energy.  Ginger equalises the “yin” energy of the new mother.

  • A silver or gold padlock is placed around baby’s neck locking the child to this world.  A custom attributed to the high infant mortality rate in ancient China.

  • Instead of sending thank you cards to the guests for their gifts, the baby's parents send presents to them. This gift usually consists of "char-sui baus", or Chinese pork buns as they are known in Australia.

100th Day and “1st” Birthday Customs

  • The 100th day is cause for a big celebration and with fish and chicken served.

  • The cooked chicken’s tounge is rubbed on the baby's lips to make it a good talker.

  • A traditional 100th day gift is a rocking chair from the paternal grandfather.

  • The child's 1st birthday is celebrated with a large feast and offerings to the gods.

  • Parents place a variety of objects in a basket to offer to the child.  These include a pen, silver, official seal, needlework and some toys. The object the baby grabs signifies the child's future.

  • The traditional 1st birthday gift is a gold ring to protect the baby during harsh times.

  • A long bread (yu char kuei) is given to the child for the first time as it is believed it will help the child learn how to walk.

  • The day a child walks for the first time a relative will walk behind him with a knife drawing three lines on the ground. The Chinese believe there are invisible bindings around a child's ankles that bind the child to a previous life. By cutting the bindings the child can walk freely forever.

Protective Charms

Protective charms were popular with the ancient Chinese as a way to ward off evil spirits and many remain today although sometimes their meaning has been lost in time.  In Australian we can see many of these charms being used in Feng Shui practice and can easily purchase them if we wish.   

  • Arrows made from the wood of a peach tree and placed near the cradle.

  • Golden bells tied on the child's wrists and ankles.

  • A pair of the father's trousers is placed near the child's bed with a charm pinned to them in hopes that the spirits will be attracted by the charm and miss the child.

  • Sewing small red pouches of vermilion to clothing was thought to protect a nervous child as it was believed nervous children could see spirits.

  • Parents ask friends for bits of cloth to sew into a patchwork coat to disguise a particularly frail child as a beggar and hence trick the spirits.

  • Coins tied together with red strings were worn or sewn into clothing to ensure prosperity and wealth.

  • Mothers protect children from contagious disease by stitching red cloth in their clothing.

  • Many Chinese children (particularly boys) have embroidered tigers on their shoes to protect against demons!